The “eating disorder (ED) voice” is what we call the voice in someone’s head that drives their eating disorder. It is the voice that is responsible for negative thoughts like “you are not good enough”, “you need to lose weight”, and “you shouldn’t eat that”. It is the voice that encourages harmful behaviors like restricting food, binging, purging, and/or overexercising.
Eating disorders are complex and confusing. Working towards recovery can be very tolling on not only the person battling the illness, but also their support systems. It is often helpful to separate the illness from the person suffering from it. This can be an empowering part of recovery to identify the voice, as well as an opportunity to take back control from it.
Some people like to take it a step further and personify their ED voice by giving it a name. This can not only add some humor (I like to challenge my clients to come up with the ugliest/most ridiculous name they can think of for their ED that is giving them so much grief!), but also give someone a persona to talk back to and challenge the harmful thoughts.
EDs develop for many reasons such as: poor body image/wanting to change one’s body, sports performance, seeking control or perfectionism through food, seeking emotional comfort through food, or fixation on eating “healthy”. EDs are often in conjunction with mental health disorders like depression, anxiety and PTSD. By having a sense of curiosity as to WHY the eating disorder voice has grown, this can help the person battling it by identifying when it is likely to be it’s “loudest” and prepare to utilize more positive coping mechanisms.
For example, if you identify that your ED voice likes to encourage ED behaviors when you are feeling stressed, then you can take appropriate action if you know you have a stressful season of work approaching. You can prepare yourself with self care activities to better manage that stress, reach out to your supports and hopefully quiet the ED voice.
We often tell clients that we want to hear from the ED voice! This is because it is super common for clients to feel empowered and able to rationalize ED thoughts in a session with their dietitian or therapist, but when the session is over, that pesky ED voice will pop back up! We want to know what the voice is saying so we can give you helpful tools and reframes to challenge it and move forward in your recovery. Afterall, the more you continue to challenge this voice, the quieter it will get.
You’ve got this! Identifying and challenging the eating disorder voice can help you to make big strides in your recovery from an eating disorder or disordered eating. If you are looking for support, see the services offered by our registered dietitians HERE.